Reliquary Bust of Saint Balbina, ca. 1520–30
Made in possibly Brussels, Belgium
Painted and gilded oak; Overall 17 1/2 x 16 x 6 1/4 in. (44.5 x 40.6 x 15.9 cm)
Bequest of Susan Vanderpoel Clark, 1967 (67.155.23)
All reliquaries derive their power from the relic they contain as well as from the beauty and intrinsic qualities of the vessel. Reliquaries in the form of busts became widespread during the High Middle Ages. This head, while of the type associated with Saint Ursula and her many martyred companions, contains the skull of Saint Balbina, an early virgin martyr of Rome. The label on the little door on top identifies the relic inside. She is richly dressed in a fashionable gown and with jewelry and an elaborate coiffure.